No Peace for East Timor
It an historic first, the Indonesian government has in effect blamed the military for a human-rights violation. On February 27, the Council of Military Honor, a commission appointed by President Suharto, investigated 19 soldiers for their involvement in the November 12, 1991, massacre in East Timor. Six officers were dismissed outrights, eight soldiers, face court martial, and give others are under investigation.
The commission's decision went against the preliminary findings of a National Commission of Inquiry that exonerated the military. The new findings are that the troops overreacted.
Still, the officers were convicted only of military misconduct. And, notes Asiaweek, "For independence-minded East Timorese .... there was little sign of kinder treatment." For example, one dismissed general has been replaced by a hardliner who, says Asiaweek, "promised to treat separatists more harshly than his predecessor did."
A small island just north of Australia, East Timor was a Portuguese colony prior to a bloody invsion by Indonesia in 1975. International human-rights organizations estimate that approximately 200,000 people have died under Indonesian rule since then, almost a third of the Timorese population.
The November massacre occurred during the funeral procession for an independence supporter that attracted hundreds of people. According to an eyewitness report in the Independent on Sunday,"At least 200 uniformed soldiers and police .... drove up in truck, took up positions, and on order opened fire with automatic weapons straight into the crowd." The massacre gained immediate and widespread publicity due to the presence of foreign journalists, many of whom were seriously injured. (Foreign journalist have been banned from Idonesia since February 26, when a decree labeled all foreign news reports biased.)
On November 19, 70 student were arrested after they presented a petition to the United Nations representative in Jakarta to protest the massacre and calling for self-determination and intervention. According to Asia Watch, 21 of the 70 remain in prison. Two defendants, accused of instigating the incident, went on trial March 16 and faced the death penalty. Three others, charged with carrying banners and insulting the Indonesian government, face prison terms up to seven years.
The Indonesian government is also prosecuting two East Timorese students, accused of masterminding the funeral "demonstration" that preceded the massacre. Their trials began March 12. The students chose the Legal Aid Institute to defend them, but the judge disallowed LAI on a technicality and appointed a court defender. However, LAI plans to take the case to the Indonesian Supreme Court.
Asia Watch reports over 20 more arrests in March, a charge confirmed in the Jackarta Post. This new spate of arrests are in conjunction with a Portuguese "peace ship" that set sail for Dili, East Timpor, from Australia on March 9. The "Lusitania Express," an ancient carferry owned by a Portuguese company. intended to visit East Timor to show sympathy for the East Timorese Although Portugal didn't officially support the voyage, former Portuguese President Antonia Ramalho Eanes was on board.
The Indonesian navy turned the ship back before it could reach East Timor. The owners of the ship have threatened to take legal action against Jakarta via the United Nations and the International Maritime Organization, claiming the ship was threatened by Indonesia while in international waters.
In a disturbing development, the Associated Press reports that one of the boat's main backers was Portugal's government-owned oil company, Galp Petroleos de Portugal. Moreover, several other business interests also appear to have supported the endeavor.
The backing of a "peace" mission by Portuguese oil and business interests raises disturbing questions about the Portuguese government's motives in supporting East Timor's independence movement. According to the AP, Portugal recently contested an agreement between Australia and Indonesia to explore the ocean floor of East Timor, which is believed to have huge oil and mineral reserves. Australia is only one of two countries in the United Nations that recognize Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.
Aboriginal Death in Custody
While the government of Australia agitates for human rights in South Africa and spends over A$1.26 billion per year on overseas humanitarian aid, aboriginal organizations charge that it ignores life-and-death concerns of its own indigenous population. Anger over human rights abuses in Australia assumed a new urgency with the publication of the findings of an Australian Federal State Royal Commission inquiry into Aboriginal death in custody.
The government initiated the three-year, $30-million study in response to aboriginal and international concern over the high number of Aborigines that have died in police custody, often following arrests for public intoxication and other relatively minor offenses. The commission's final report was released in the fall of 1991, but, says Paul Coe, chair of the National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Serive Secretariat (NAILSS) in New South Wales, aboriginal organization "will not hold our breath" waiting for significant changes to result.
Coe's statement follow official comments by Robert Tickner, Australia's Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Tickner acknowledges that the commission report graphically illustrates the extent of aboriginal disadvantages under the current legal and policing systems. However, he says the commission "did not find that any of the death investigated were the result of deliberate unlawful violence or brutality by police or prison officers." According to Tickner, the commission "found that the large number of aboriginal deaths in custody was due to the disproportionate number of aboriginal people in prison or police custody."
Aboriginal advocates questions these conclusions. According to Robin Gannon of NAILSS, "a lot of suspicious circumstances" surround many of the deaths. John Pilger, writing in New Statesman and Society, is more blunt. Describing the apparent suicide of 21-year-old Eddie Murray in Wee Waa, New South Wales, he points out that police claimed Murray was "so drunk he couldn't scratch himself," yet they also claim that "he had managed to tear a strip off a thick prison blanket, deftly fold it, thread it through the bars of the window, the two knots, fashion a noose, and hang himself without his feet leaving the ground."
The Royal Commission didn't let prison officers completely off the hook, however. Its reported found that all 99 deaths investigated resulted from either suicide or medical neglect when officials failed to realize that a prisoners was seriously ill. Nevertheless, none of the 339 recommendations arising from the study call for charges against the officers involved in any of these cases. They focus instead on addressing sociological injustices in the Australian system, calling for policing, education, and poverty reforms.
Unfortunately, says, Coe, the commission recommendation leave these reforms to "those same state governments that have been the main oppressors of aboriginal people." In fact, rather than directly confront any of the issues raised by the report, the government plans to go ahead with a 10-year plan for aboriginal "reconciliation" conceived before the report came out. Helen Corbett, National Committee to Defend Black Rights Aboriginal Corporation, has politely labeled that plan as "welfare colonialism."
According to Gannon, the report did contain some useful recommendations, including a call for better medical care in the jails. It has also led to closer interaction between prison guards and aboriginal organizations trying to improve conditions in prisons.
Gannon claims that since the report's publication, discussion of the issue has become more common among experts in various fields in Australia. She says this is helpful because more white Australians are starting to understand the situation faced by their country's original residents.
Resources for Indigenous Health Care
With even increasing frequency, we hear cries to save the world's rain forests because of their great potential for holding cures to an astonishing array of diseases, from cancer to AIDS and Alzheimer's disease, What is rarely noted is that rain forests already provide enormous medical benefits to the people who live in and near then. For them, the potential medical benefits - and losses, should the rainforests die out - are especially great.
Up to 80 percent of the world's people rely on natural plant medicines as their primary form of health care, and the proportion is probably higher in the tropics. These same people are also least likely to gain from drugs developed by Northern pharmaceutical companies - either because the new drugs won't be applicable to their medical problems or because the costs will be prohibitively high.
As in other tropical forest regions, most people in Belize. Central America, depend on a traditional system for primary health care based on medicinal plants. Dr. Michael Badlick of the New York Botanical Garden has been studying the plants used in this system and recently calculated a dollar value for the rainforests medicinal resources. He found that the yearly cash value of these plants, when sustainably harvested and sold in local markets, ranges from about $293 to $1,346 per acre. By comparison, a study of a similar rainforest area found that one acre, if cleared and farmed intensively, would yield only $137 per year.
Balick examined the value of plants that are used in existing traditional medicine, calculating only the potential income if the plants were sold locally. He didn't try to place a value on the traditional medical system - which would disappear with the destruction of the forests - with an adequate "Northern" - style system is incalculable.
On the other hand, the unrealized potential benefits of rainforest medicinal resources for local tropical residents is probably also significant. Ideally, traditional medical systems, like the one studied by Dr, Balick, could be teamed with Western-style research and extraction methods to provide a more powerful and cost-effective system than either one alone. Such a hybrid could offer an innovative means for ensuring that indigenous communities continue to benefit from their natural resources.
This is not just a utopian idea. A number of efforts aim to do just this.
Since the early 1980s, the Federation Nativa del Rio Madre de Dios Afluentes (FENAMAD), an organization founded by indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon, has been preserving, amplifying, and systematizing traditional medical knowledge, and supplementing that with "modern" understanding of medicinal plants. According to Miguel Alexiades, an ethnobotanist with the New York Botanical Garden, FENAMAD trains local people in basic medical techniques for treating common maladies like parasites, fevers, malaria, and dehydration.
Since diseases are easily cured in developed countries, but for a person living in remote parts of Peru, modern drugs are too expensive, even if the Peruvian medical system adequently served these areas. AT the same time, indigenous societies throughout the upper Amazon are rapidly losing their medical knowledge as the younger generation shows less and less interests inlearning from older shamans.
In response to both disturbing facts, FENAMAD botanists and medical professionals have collaborated with traditional healers and other residents to establish s local pharmacopoeia. Together, they have selected about 100 medicinal plants - some with medical activity well-known to Western medicine, others that are recognized locally - to yield treatments for common ailments, FENAMAD workers reintroduce knowledge of these plans to local people through a training manual and training sessions at the organization's headquarters.
FENAMAD has trained about 500 community residents to use these basic plant remedies. Further, it is estimated that these new health-care workers in indigenous people - often offering the only viable trained medical care. FENAMAD's work has even led to the discovery of a previously unrecognized medicine, an anti-parasitic latex from the tree Ficus insipida.
In Rwanda, a small country in the Central Africa,a project integrates the traditional medical system into the primary health-care system by improving traditional remedies on a scientific basis. In 1980, the Federal University of Rwanda's Faculty of Medicine established CURPHAMETRA, the Centre de Rescherche sur la Pharmacopé et la Médecine Traditionnelle. Since then, CURPAHMETRA has been fostering a national pharmaceutical industry that is more affordable to most Rwandians than reliance on imported medicines.
As in Beliz and Peru, traditional healers serve as the primary form of health care for most Rwandians. In initial studies, trained medical teams evaluated the effectiveness of treatments prescribed by traditional healers. At the same time, plant remedies were tested in the laboratory for toxicirty. Based on this two-part research, CURPHAMETRA two-part research, CURPHAMETRA proposed that a number of remedies known to traditional healers be incorporated into a formal primary health-care system.
CURPHAMETRA has also undertaken a program to derive extracts from well-known medicinal plants, both native ones and some that are foreign to Rwanda. Again, the goal has been to develop and produce drugs locally that would be cheaper than imports. These extracts are being distributed to hospitals, clinics and pharmacies throughout Rwanda.
Dr. Luc Van Puyvelde, a founder of CURPHAMETRA, explains that the intitative also creates employment, promotes environmental conservation, and reduces dependence on expensive imported medicines. In effect, by producing plant-derived medicines locally, CHUPHAMETRA is moving to create a cost-effective health-care system - and therefore one that is available to more people.
Still, such efforts to enhance traditional systems of medicinal knowledge are fraught with difficulties. For example, FENAMAD serves an area containing 18 ethnic groups. This diversity presents considerable obstacles to communication and coordination.
The complexity of working with medicinal plants presents a further challenge. Shamas know how to combine varieties of plants and herbs: some herbs might treat a problem directly, while others combat toxic side-effects of the active herbs. When taken out of the mix, however, an herb might be poisonous. To overcome this danger, FENAMAD works with plants that are well-known to modern medicine and concentrates on relatively simple remedies. CURPHAMETRA takes a more technical approach, isolating the active components of medicinal plants and making these extracts widely available.
Bolivia Hosts Indigenous Workshop
The Second Internmerican Indigenous Congress on Natural Resources and Environment, sponsored by Cultural Survival, the World Wildlife Fund, the Inter-American Foundation, and other funders, took place in San Ignacio de Moxos in the Bolivian Amazon this past December. Representatives of indigenours organizations from across the Americas gathered to exchange experiences and formulate strategies and policies that would give indigenous people more control over their environment and development,
Several themes emerged over the course of the six-day meeting. At the top of the list were concerns about indigenous efforts to secure land rights, design and implement development programs, gain access to health care and other social services, and participate in national politics. Sustainable development projects and indigenous management of land and resources were acknowledged as important elements in a strategy for increasing self-sufficiency.
The need for indigenous control of resources and lands underscored environmental concerns. This was emphasized in the meeting's concluding resolutions, which state the protected areas cannot be established without the consulation and participation of residents living in those areas under consideration."
Representatives agreed to conduct all work through their respective organizations and to exchange information through a future series of workshops and to create a human resources directory of indigenous professionals to enable more technical exchanges throughout the Americas.
The Environment and Human Rights
The United Nations Subcommission on Human Rights Recently initiated a study of the relationship between environmental degradation and human rights. To be carried out by Algerian lawyer Fatma Zohra Ksentini, the research grew out of a report that she delivered to the Subcomission in August 1990 stating that the "deterioration of the environment affects the enjoyment of human rights (life, health, work, information, participation, self-determination, the right to development, to peace and security)."
Ksetini will address such questions as whether existing human rights principles should be applied in an environmental context or whether a statement of environmental rights is needed. She will also address the need to establish "substantive standards." These might include rights to clean air and water and self-sustaining forests. The research will also ask if affected individuals and communities should gain new rights to information from governments and corporations.
Ksentini is scheduled to submit a progress report to the subcommission in August 1992 and a final report for the subcomission's August 1993 session.
For more information, contact the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund International Program, 180 Montgomery Street, Suite 1400, San Francisco, CA 94104. (415)627-6700; fax: (415)627-6740.
"A group of Tibetans and their friends `toycotting' in New York left the U.S.-China toy business gasping for breath.... The toycotters are campaigning for the boycott of toys made in China because of China's human-rights abuses and its continuing occupation of Tibet.... [According to Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi] `The toycott is an excellent means for individual citizens to support democracy and human rights in China and Tibet.'…
"[Lisa Kerry, executive director of the U.S.-Tibet Committee stated,] `We have sigled out one of China's leading exports because we want to attack China where it hurts most-its pcketbook.'... 40% of all U.S. toys are manufactured in China, making the U.S. the largest importer of toys from that country."
Discrimination Against Gypsies
"Gypsies in post-communist Eastern Europe are suffering from natinalistic prejudice and racial violence reminiscent of the Nazi era [said Gypsy leaders from Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Russia]...Documents presented at the two-day seminar in Paris recounted killings of two dozen Gypsies in Romania and a [recent] attack provoked by skinheads in Skiofok, Hungary. An estimated 5 million to 6 million gypsies live in Europe, about two-thirds of them in Eastern Europe."
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.